Mark Lambert sat on the carpeted floor of his living room, trying to figure how to make a glute bridge more difficult to exhaust the fast-twitch muscles of a National Hockey League hockey player.
A glute bridge is a fairly simple exercise, performed by lying face up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. The objective is to lift the hips off the ground until the knees, hips and shoulders are a straight line, engaging mainly the glutes and hamstrings and strengthening the core.
For a professional athlete, the action is easy.
"They can do hundreds," Lambert said.
How can one make it more difficult with limited equipment?
Lambert asked himself that question on his living room floor. He got an idea. He grabbed an elastic band, tied one end to the left leg of his couch, lapped the band over his hips and tied the other end to the couch's right leg.
With his back flat against the couch, Lambert lifted his hips, the tension from the band making the exercise considerably more difficult to perform.
A player couldn't do this exercise easily. And they certainly wouldn't be able to do hundreds at a time.
"Those are the little ways that you can make it a little tougher," Lambert said. "Get creative. It's tough. But we're lucky though in my world, everybody's in the same boat."
Since the NHL paused the season March 12 with no date set for a return, Lambert is one of the few people in the hockey world whose job got busier with no games.
Lambert is the director of high performance and strength coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before the NHL pause, Lambert was in mid-season form, creating and executing each player's tailored workout regimen. There was an end goal in sight. With one month remaining in the regular season, Lightning players were gearing up for an extended playoff run that could last into June.
Then the coronavirus hit, and the world shut down. The NHL halted. Players, like the rest of us, were told to quarantine at home and self-isolate. They couldn't go to their team facility to work out. Couldn't skate. Had to stay in their home as much as possible.
But they also needed to continue working out, preparing for the hopeful resumption of the season. Without the proper equipment, that proved difficult. Some had great setups at their home. Some had nothing but were able to take home equipment from the training facility to give them a good starting base.
That's why Lambert found himself on his floor, trying to find different objects every player should have around their house to devise new workout plans that could be executed with their limited equipment.
It's been an exhausting process for Lambert, now in his ninth season with the Lightning.
But one he relishes too.
"Selfishly, I like it," he said. "It keeps me very engaged. It's not a vacation by any means for me. I'm doing this from home, and we have a one year old and a seven year old who's in school. That makes it even more challenging because I've got to come up with exercises and create plans while helping my wife with school for our oldest and she's got the baby hanging on her. And then she's like, 'Go take the baby.' And I'm like, okay, I've got to find ways I can use the baby as resistance.
"It's fun. It's tough. It's frustrating. But it keeps you engaged, and, personally, I like that."
Lambert explains how he tweaks a plank to make it more difficult. Starting from the plank position, the athlete performs an elbow extension to get onto their hands.
"That's tough as hell," he said.
The idea is to repeat the movement of starting in a plank and ending in a push up, going back and forth between both positions, to exhaustion.
"Everybody has stairs in their home, so they can all do step-ups," he said. "They can all do walking lunges, like going up the stairs two at a time or three at a time. They can all do pistol squats. But, yeah, there are just so many variations of push-ups you can do, so that's where you've got to get creative. I don't want to take the credit, I get creative by going to YouTube and finding things and ideas."
Lambert said there are three ways to work and exhaust the fast-twitch muscle fibers that are the ones needed in hockey for strength and power.
Because of current limitations, he can only apply two of those methods.
"There's either going fast, going heavy - which is impossible for some of our guys in their current situation - or going until failure," he said. "We go fast and go until failure. Like doing push-ups for example, you go down slow and then you explode up or you push yourself up like you're jumping up with your arms. That would be an example of going fast. Clap pushups would be an example of going fast. Going to failure is, 'Alright, do some push-ups and only stop when you can't move.' That sucks, but those are the ways we can use in this period of gyms not being open. It's not easy. I have to find all different kinds of exercises I'm not used to using. It makes it challenging in terms of program design, that's for sure."
The larger challenge for Lambert is the unidentifiable date of a return to action.
"It's a little tougher when you work out and you don't know when you're going to be playing," Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. "I've never done anything like that."
The NHL season, with its six-month regular season and playoff schedule lasting a couple more months, is a marathon, not a sprint.
Imagine training for a marathon without knowing the exact day of the race. Pushing toward an end date that doesn't exist.
"The hardest part for a strength coach is called periodization," Lambert added. "That's taking your athlete from day one and getting him ready for whatever it is, day 100. So you've got a three-month period but you know exactly your timeline.
"…The most challenging part for anybody right now is we don't have a timeline. If we had a timeline, if you told me one month or six months, I'd have a better idea. Right now, the objective is a little bit of everything. You want to improve obviously, but you can't create too much damage in the muscle. You don't have the luxury of time to recuperate because you don't know what the timeline actually is."
Most Lightning players have four workout sessions throughout the week, performed on their own and provided by Lambert, each lasting roughly 45 minutes. Wednesday's usually an off day. So is the weekend. Some players continue training on days off but take at least one day out of the week to rest. Most do their workout in the morning before doing cardio in the afternoon.
"The unknown is kind of tough not knowing when we're going to get back. That's the biggest challenge mentally," Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. "But physically, it's always good to get a good workout in. You feel good about yourself afterwards and you feel like you've done something good during the day."
Lightning players have an advantage over other teams dealing with less favorable climates. It's easy in Tampa to pop outside for a run, bike ride or stroll down Bayshore on rollerblades. Heck, a handful of Lightning players can paddleboard into the bay off a dock in their back yard. The weather in the Bay Area, pretty much year-round, is rarely an impediment to using the outdoors for exercise, socially distanced of course.
"In terms of staying quote-unquote in shape, you can always go outside," Lambert said. "The cardio aspect, staying active, is very easy down here, so we're lucky for that."
If the season does resume and a Stanley Cup is awarded in 2020, Lambert thinks the team that wins it is the one that manages to stay the most engaged during the pause, the one that can remain focused on the end goal without getting distracted by not playing.
"Most of the guys are pretty motivated," he said. "Now, they've just accepted the fact that this is obscure. In the beginning there was frustration. Now, they've accepted it, and I don't want to say embrace it, but it's a feeling of it is what it is. 'I know what I've got to do, I'm a professional and if there's a Stanley Cup in 2020 then I want it.' It's funny, some of the guys even said, I speak to them after their training session, and, 'You know what? I got a lot better today,' with a smile. 'It was tough, and I loved it.'
"That's all I can hope for."